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Investment Key to Climate Change Challenge

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By Sophie Reagan (MBA’16) and Jim Ryan (MBA’17)

“The solution to climate change is not generations away” US Secretary of State John Kerry assured international investors, corporate executives, and policymakers attending the Climate and Clean Energy Investment Forum. Climate change is an urgent matter that needs to be dealt with to “honor our commitment to future generations,” he continued.

Innovations in clean energy are a path to that commitment and will “grow our economies and employ our communities,” Kerry declared to mobilize the private sector in the lead up to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change to be held in Paris at the beginning of December.

The two-day forum co-sponsored by the State Department, Google, and Georgetown’s Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) and Environmental Initiative (GEI), held October 20-21, emphasized the role that investment can play in catalyzing climate change solutions. As Jeremy Grantham, co-chair of the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment and co-founder of GMO, LLC, put it, investing in these efforts means “you can make very handsome returns and move the dial.” Grantham appeared on the opening panel of the conference alongside Secretary Kerry and Georgetown President John DeGioia, moderated by NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell.

DeGioia noted that Pope Francis has provided significant inspiration, and while the great strength of universities is disciplinary knowledge, challenges such as climate change require the integration of all those disciplines, as Georgetown is trying to do with policy, law, science, and business.

Elizabeth Littlefield, President and CEO of OPIC, moderated a panel of leading CEOs in clean energy from around the world, probing on how policy, investment, and innovation come together to move the marketplace. Ahmad Chatila, CEO of SunEdison and Chairman of Terraform Power, emphasized that consistent government policy will be key for companies to continue to make investments in new alternative energy projects. Inderpreet Wadwa, CEO of Azure Power, projected the continued importance of market-driven solutions, and of the shift to consumers driving what kind of energy they want rather than the utility companies directing the conversation. He cited a projection that by 2020, over one quarter of the world’s population will receive electricity from off-grid solutions.

At the McDonough School of Business on the forum’s second day, Hal Harvey, CEO of Energy Innovation proclaimed that the commitments for carbon reductions that will be made in Paris are a start, but not nearly enough. He made a strong case for the need for continued system innovation, process improvement, and how government regulation can either impede or greatly aid this process.

Echoing DeGioia’s comments on the need for interdisciplinary problem solving, US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, emphasized the need for multidisciplinary innovation in energy, technology, policy, and in finance. “The challenges do not get easier” the Secretary stressed. “Innovation is going to be absolutely central for meeting not just near term goals…but also the continuing progress that people need to make.” These innovations must continue to drive down the cost of low carbon energy and will be integral for continued progress past 2030.

Emphasizing the importance of cross-sector collaboration, GSEI Executive Director Ladan Manteghi said, “This is the second impact conference GSEI has convened with the State Department to demonstrate how investment can create social and environmental benefit and yield financial return.”

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Secretary's Climate and Clean Energy Investment Photo Gallery